Sounds of British Theatre Organists

           

 

The first recordings of British theatre organs were made in 1926, using the Christie organ at the Elite Theatre, Wimbledon, with Jack Courtnay at the console.  These were soon followed by recordings of Reginald Foort at the Wurlitzer organ of the New Gallery Theatre in Regent Street, and Quentin Maclean at the Compton organ at the Pavilion, Shepherd's Bush.  Recordings of theatre organs proliferated through the 1930s, and 78s continued to be issued until about 1960.

In the earliest days, the recording equipment was too cumbersome and inflexible to locate in theatres, so a microphone was placed in the theatre, and the sounds were passed through the public telephone system to the recording studio, where the waxes were cut.  After a while, mobile recording vans were brought into use.

To read more about the recording process click here for an extract from Reginald Foort's book "The Cinema Organ" (published in 1932) and here for an article by Sydney Gustard from "Cinema Organ Herald" (published in 1933).

Many 78s by Reginald Dixon, Reginald Foort, Quentin Maclean and Sydney Torch are readily available in remastered CD form.  Only a few examples are therefore included here.

More 78s will be added to this page in the future, so if your favourite organists are not here already, they probably will be later, if they cut 78s.

Study notes will be added also in due course.

                                                   

 

Stuart Barrie

James Bell

Al Bollington

The Paramount organ was equipped with an early version of the Compton "Electrone" attachment (usually referred to by its stopkey name of "Melotone").  The early versions incorporated a "Glide" (portamento) effect that enabled organists to imitate a Hawaiian guitar - this unique effect can be heard in some of these recordings (especially in "Mood Indigo", which forms part of Shades of Blue (at 0':59").  The Irving Berlin Medley features many of the Melotone's varied electrophonic tones (generated by rotating electrostatic discs).  The first Melotone attachments appeared in 1935.

 Irving Berlin Memories  Shades of Blue  Once in a While    

 Terance Casey

 Robinson Cleaver

Organ specification

Organ specification

For more of Robinson Cleaver's recordings, scroll down to The Organ, the Dance Band and Me

 

Jesse Crawford

NOTE:  Restored versions of all Crawford's Empire recordings are included in The Listening Room Crawfords page

Empire Theatre, Leicester Square, London (Wurlitzer 4/20) 1933

American organist Jesse Crawford visited England in 1933, playing at the Empire, and also the UK Paramount theatres in Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle.  He recorded a handful of sides for His Master's Voice (HMV) at the Empire, the only in-theatre recordings he made, apart from his 1924 session at the Chicago Theatre.  The recording quality far exceeds that of his Victor 78s

 Harry Davidson

 

Reginald Dixon

World-famous dance organist who created what has become known as the "Blackpool Style" of theatre organ playing.  In my opinion, his best recordings are amongst his hundreds of 78s. He recorded on 78s other organs than the Tower Ballroom; I have included examples of these.  There are several CDs available of his recordings, so only a few examples are given, mainly to show the variety of the organs he used.

Horace Finch

 

Opera House, Blackpool

Eldon Firmstone

Reginald Foort

Foort researches train sounds on the footplate prior to recording "Choo-Choo"

"An Organist on the Footplate - To Make Record of  Locomotive Music. Mr.Reginald Foort, the noted organist of the Regal Cinema, Marble Arch, who is famous for his broadcasts, is making a record of "Choo Choo" the descriptive train effects fox-trot. In order to obtain the correct local colour and the exact tonal values of the sound of machinery of a train in motion, the Southern Railway arranged for Mr. Foort to travel on the footplate of a locomotive of the Lord Nelson class and he went on the West of England Express for this purpose. The photograph shows Mr. Foort in the cab of the engine at Waterloo commencing to record his impression of the various sounds. His recording apparatus can be seen on the left of the photograph".  Southern Railway Magazine, May, 1931

 

Leslie James

 

Wyndham Lewis

 

Quentin Maclean                     

Sandy Macpherson

BBC Theatre Organ, Grand Theatre, Llandudno (Möller 5c/27)

Reginald New

Beaufort Theatre, Washwood Heath, Birmingham (Compton 2/8)

 

 

Frank Newman

Edward O'Henry

 

Wilson Oliphant (Chuckerbutty)

The Organ, the Dance Band and Me

 

Bobby Pagan

Regal, Glasgow (Compton 3/12)

Foxtrot  c.1931

 

 

 

Phil Park

George Pattmann

Harold Ramsay

 Regal Theatre, Kingston (Wurlitzer 3/12)

Harold Ramsay at the Regal/Union Theatre, Kingston

 

Brian Rodwell

Note: These are MP3 stereo files, approx 2MB each, so will take longer to download.

The original discs from which these tracks are taken contain distortion and overloading that makes them unpleasant to listen to. This has been removed as far as possible, with some reduction of upper frequencies. Believe me, you wouldn't want to listen to the originals!

Granada, Clapham Junction (Wurlitzer 3/8) - December 1955

Louise

Harlem Nocturne

Punch

Samum

Jet Journey

Speakeasy

Valse Grise

Granada, Tooting (Wurlitzer 4p/14) - December1955

Up With The Curtain

Deep Purple

Red Resin

Song of the Trees

Jazz Pizzicato

If I Should Fall in Love Again

Stars Fell on Alabama

Children's Overture (6MB file - 9 minutes)

Irish Legend

"Fats Waller" Medley

 

 

 

Hubert Selby 

 

 

 

Charles Smart

 

Lloyd Thomas

 

Donald Thorne

F Rowland Tims

Capitol Theatre, Haymarket, London (Hill, Norman & Beard 4/--)

 

 

 

Sydney Torch

Gaumont State, Kilburn

Note:  the huge number of stops for 16 ranks, the convenient ashtray, the very tight fit on the 6ft turntable and the loudspeaker built into the music desk in an attempt to overcome the time delay as the console was 110ft from the closest pipe.

"Fats" Waller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Photo courtesy Gordon Crook
Is that "Smoke Dreams of You" on the Music Desk?

EMI Compton c.1940

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